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Glass Ceilings and 100-Hour Couples

What the Opt-Out Phenomenon Can Teach Us about Work and Family

Karine Moe and Dianna Shandy

Publication Year: 2010

When significant numbers of college-educated American women began, in the early twenty-first century, to leave paid work to become stay-at-home mothers, an emotionally charged national debate erupted. Karine Moe and Dianna Shandy, a professional economist and an anthropologist, respectively, decided to step back from the sometimes overheated rhetoric around the so-called mommy wars. They wondered what really inspired women to opt out, and they wanted to gauge the phenomenon's genuine repercussions. Glass Ceilings and 100-Hour Couples is the fruit of their investigation—a rigorous, accessible, and sympathetic reckoning with this hot-button issue in contemporary life.

Drawing on hundreds of interviews from around the country, original survey research, and national labor force data, Moe and Shandy refocus the discussion of women who opt out from one where they are the object of scrutiny to one where their aspirations and struggles tell us about the far broader swath of American women who continue to juggle paid work and family. Moe and Shandy examine the many pressures that influence a woman's decision to resign, reduce, or reorient her career. These include the mismatch between child-care options and workplace demands, the fact that these women married men with demanding careers, the professionalization of stay-at-home motherhood, and broad failures in public policy. But Moe and Shandy are equally attentive to the resilience of women in the face of life decisions that might otherwise threaten their sense of self-worth. Moe and Shandy find, for instance, that women who have downsized their careers stress the value of social networks—of “running with a pack of smart women” who've also chosen to emphasize motherhood over paid work.

Published by: University of Georgia Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

We traded our twenties for doctorates and our thirties for elusive tenure- track jobs. In and amongst school and work, we both married professionals and had kids, albeit on different timelines. An...

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pp. xiii-xiv

We want to express our deep appreciation to all of the people who helped us to write this book. We thank Derek Krissoff for seeing the potential in our idea and for his enthusiastic and expert guidance, Molly Thompson...

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pp. 1-10

Eleanor Roosevelt’s words still resonate in America today. Her book It’s Up to the Women was published during a period of economic turbulence that rivals our own. It, like many books today about women and work, was met with great controversy, and her chapter...

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ONE. Numbers Too Big to Ignore

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pp. 11-20

The 1970s were heady times for American women, and people often think of the significant presence of women in the U.S. labor force as a phenomenon resulting from the women’s movement in the latter half of the twentieth century. On the contrary, women’s labor force...

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TWO. Why Opting Out Is an Everywoman Issue

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pp. 21-34

In 2003, journalist Lisa Belkin wrote a piece for the New York Times Magazine called “The Opt- Out Revolution.” Belkin interviewed a small group of highly educated women, Princeton alumnae no less, who had “opted out” of the workforce. The reasons women gave...

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THREE. The 100-Hour Couple

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pp. 35-44

One of the most intriguing explanations for why women leave the workforce or reorient their careers is the phenomenon of the 100- hour couple. Valerie’s story gives us some insight into how these tough decisions play out among high- achieving couples. Valerie was...

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FOUR. Glass Ceilings and Maternal Walls

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pp. 45-60

When young women graduate from college today, they expect that they will enter into the labor market on the same terms as men. They expect to be able to hold the same jobs as men, and to earn similar salaries as well. And, in some niches of the labor market, this...

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FIVE. Second Shift Redux

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pp. 61-71

The more time couples spend at work, the less time they have to run the household. And, as we’ve noted earlier in our discussion of 100- hour couples, time is a particularly scarce resource for busy families. Competing with the demands of work, a major drain on...

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SIX. Child Care Dilemmas

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pp. 72-82

How American society configures the relationships among mothers, fathers, and children tells us something important about how our culture shapes gender, work, and identity. While biology determines the reality that women give birth, it is our culture that situates...

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SEVEN. Mama Time

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pp. 83-96

Kids can be cranky, demanding, and generally maddening, but there’s no feeling in the world like when your two- year- old wraps his arms around your neck and whispers into your ear, “I love you, angel mama.” The world stops spinning. Stress melts away. And...

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EIGHT. The Hectic Household

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pp. 97-113

The rhythms of job demands vary. And in two- earner families, these two sets of demands increase exponentially. At the same time, children’s needs shift from year to year, from month to month, from week to week, from day to day, and, as anyone who has made a...

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NINE. The Professionalization of At- Home Motherhood

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pp. 114-126

So what do you do? This question, which most of us might write off as “small talk,” is anything but trivial. It reflects the importance we attribute to one’s occupation as the primary source of our public social identity. So normally when we answer the what- do- you- do...

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TEN. Financial Costs

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pp. 127-138

This chapter analyzes the economic implications of a woman’s decision to take time out of the labor force. In addition to the obvious loss of income while out of work, women who drop out temporarily suffer a wage penalty upon return. For some couples, the husband...

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ELEVEN. Negotiating without a Paycheck

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pp. 139-148

Money is power. And when women give up their paychecks, the power balance in their relationships necessarily changes. This chapter explores how women navigate the potential and real changes in their power relationships with their spouses after leaving the...

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TWELVE. Reigniting the Career

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pp. 149-162

A woman who wants to reignite her career will confront many challenges, whether she has been out of the workforce for some time or has placed her job in a kind of holding pattern for family reasons. The transition will undoubtedly be complicated by factors both...

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THIRTEEN. Creative Strategies for Making Work “Work”

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pp. 163-172

Women are resourceful, and whether they work full- time, part- time, or according to some other arrangement, they employ creative strategies to manage their situations. For the most part, women herald flexibility as the number one job characteristic to help them balance...

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FOURTEEN. Coming of Age in America

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pp. 173-182

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. This important legislation ushered in broad societal changes. Before the 1970s, women had little room to maneuver in...


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pp. 183-196


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pp. 197-208


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pp. 209-215

E-ISBN-13: 9780820336084
E-ISBN-10: 0820336084
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820331546
Print-ISBN-10: 0820331546

Page Count: 232
Illustrations: 2 figures
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Work and family -- United States.
  • Women -- Employment -- United States.
  • Dual-career families -- United States.
  • Glass ceiling (Employment discrimination) -- United States.
  • Stay-at-home mothers -- United States.
  • Working mothers -- United States.
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